A long long time ago, in a galaxy far away, Tuesday used to be the day when Guylty would write a photo analysis. Every week. Without fail. Well, bless me,
father Armitage, for I have sinned. It has been four weeks since my last confession *ooof*. This one should have been emergency *ooof*ed as well, but I was off-comms due to visitors. Thank goodness Thorin has no half-time…
In the run-up to the BOFA promo, PJ is releasing new Hobbit posters one by one. What a tease! I have been wondering whether there is a strategy behind the sequence of the characters that we have been shown? Thorin coming only after Gandalf, Galadriel, Legolas and Bard. Is he not important enough *hissssss* or is PJ leaving the best for
third but last? I had the impression from the literary source material, that Thorin was the driver of plot in the last part of the trilogy. Well, but that’s just the fangirl zoning in on the ooa (object of affection). But Thranduil and finally Bilbo were released even after Thorin. Or is this merely a reflection of the fan vote?
The series of Hobbit portrait posters is now complete, and Thorin’s portrait fits very nicely in it. Arranged beside each other, you can see a distinct visual language emerging in them. As befits a series of related images – whether for promotional purposes or in the context of an art project – the images have been created in a style that clearly relate them to each other. All images are head shots, closely cropped to the face of the subject, and they are characterised by the same tones and desaturated hues.
The desaturated colour of the images communicates a subtle message, too – you could say that the cold colours warn us that the advertised film will not be a cosy home movie but a suspenseful drama. And once again there is an imperceptible nod to old times – the desaturated image reminds us of sepia photographs. I find the visual language of the Hobbit portraits quite interesting because it seems to be a design decision that does not reflect the aesthetics of the film (which looks quite rich in colour from what I have seen in the trailer so far) and has come up with a visual language of its own that ties the promo images together and presents them as one body of work.
What I find interesting here is that there appears to be almost a system of pairs in these portraits. Compare Galadriel’s and Thranduil’s images, for instance – both portraits are lighter in colours than the other images, clearly evoking associations of purity, immaculateness, other-worldliness. That befits their status as Elven Royalty. They also are the two images that show the subjects dead-pan and connecting their gaze with the viewer, a hint of the wisdom and power of the Elves who basically do not have to fear anything and can assert themselves without any pretense of defense. Similarly, Legolas and Tauriel as Elven warriors are a visual pair in this row of images – not quite as regal as Galadriel and Thranduil, the composition of their images looks very similar with a strong diagonal line from top left to bottom right characterising the composition, and dramatic lighting reflecting brightly from their immaculate Elven skin and placing them in a row with Galadriel and Thranduil.
Interestingly, I find Gandalf and Thorin another pair in this series – in terms of composition at least. That is partly down to the impressive beards and the abundant long hair, but also to the position of the head, slightly cocked to the left, and the subsequent sight lines establishing themselves. The one who stands out from all this is Bard. He is the only character whose image shows sight lines from top *right* to bottom left, mainly because the image was lit from the right hand side. An oversight? Or deliberate? The way I have placed the images (in order of release), Bard literally now stands at loggerheads with Thorin. That may be a little too forced an interpretation, although it fits the general feeling between the two characters at the end of THDOS. In a way it could be argued that those two character images are a pair, too – but as mirror images: two dirty warriors, long-haired… but clearly in opposition, not in agreement.
But how does Thorin’s portrait work on its own? Let’s have a closer look at his image.
Apart from Thorin’s head, there is little else to be seen. We see a face smudged with dirt, but also injured. There is blood on Thorin’s temple and above the left eye (our perspective). We can’t see much of his attire, but it appears that he is not wearing armour. Nonetheless we have the impression that he has been in battle, and is now turning back to scrutinize something. There is a dynamic feeling to this static pose which looks almost like a pause in the drama. His gaze is intensely focussed on something, the tiny line between his eye brows gives it away. The lips seem a little bit pursed. Is it a look of disgust and anger? You can almost see thoughts flickering through Thorin’s mind. But the exact anchoring of the image in a particular scene escapes me for now. The image remains ambiguous in that sense.
The composition of the image on the other hand is hard to escape. It is characterised by very interesting lines that make up a parallelogram in a very aesthetically pleasing way. There is a certain rhythm to this arrangement of lines, sparing the corners of the image and thus creating a square in the middle which is actually the centre of the frame. In this composition, the Hobbit logo is off-set nicely in the bottom right corner, balancing against the eyes which draw our attention in the upper third of the image. The composition here adds excitement to the image – the rectangular image format has been deliberately antagonized by placing the subject diagonally into the frame. Visually, this is exciting, dramatic, certainly not boring and it draws attention.
Or maybe that is just me getting overenthusiastic about Thorin.
We have a photo with mid-range dof here that focusses on the face of Thorin. I suspect some parts of the image have actually artificially been given the blur treatment (compare Thorin’s blurred out plait on the right that should be on the same visual plane as the plait on the right which is in focus). The lighting of the images comes strongly from the left but there is also evidence of light from (above) right, shown up by the deep shadow in Thorin’s naso-labial fold and a catch light in his right eye (our perspective). What is particularly striking about the use of light here is the effect on the eyes. With the light catching Thorin from the left, some of his iris is illuminated. This does not only add a bit of colour to the face but actually gives a three-dimensional feel to it as we can “translate” the curvature of the cornea into our perception of the image. The shadows caused by the lighting add to the three-dimensionality, too, producing the deep dark that appears in the naso-labial fold, and white highlights on the ridge of the
What is done extraordinarily well in all the Hobbit posters, is the dramatic adjusting of the tonal range. The tonal range is the number of tones between white at one end of the scale, and black at the other. Tones translate into shades of grey in b/w photography, and it almost works the same here in these desaturated images. By adjusting the tonal range, the photographer receives several effects. In colour photography, she adds more colour to an image. In general she therefore creates more detail in the picture. But she can also make an image appear less flat and more three-dimensional. As a reference point, check out the beautiful landscapes by Ansel Adams. Adams was a master of tonal range. He even invented his own system of achieving perfect tonal range through exposure, called the “zone system”. This relies on the photographer visualising the prefect range of tones as she wants it represented on film, and assigning zone values to the shades of grey/colour seen when exposing. Photographers who don’t want to rely on the zone system adjust the tonal range in post-production by checking the histogram and making changes to the highlights and shadows. Even simple editing programs such as Windows Picture Viewer has a little histogram and sliding controls with which you can play.
An image with good tonal range is characterised by deep blacks and brilliant highlights, touching both ends of the scale and avoiding the dominance of flat, mid-grey tones. In this image of Thorin you will find deep blacks in the shadows under his hair, his nose, the fold, even the pupils; there are bright highlights on the left side of his face where the light reflects on his skin, and many ranges in between.
The snowflakes in the image also act as tiny highlights in the image. They are most likely photoshopped in – as it would be rather silly to expose valuable equipment
and capricious star actors to the cold and the wet – but the giveaway is the fact that none of the snow flakes obscure any of the important facial features. They are not on Thorin’s eyes, lips, his nose (where it would look too comical), but only on the bigger expanses of visible skin. And there are none settled on his hair.
I have been wondering why it may have been so important to the image creators to have all characters pictured with snow. We have last seen Thorin et al in swirling snowflakes on the steps of the town hall in Laketown. Is the weather going to get even worse in BOFA? One shudders, especially as the temperature of this series of images is quite cold, anyway, desaturated as they are. However, the snowflakes may serve another purpose here. While the pose of the character is fairly static – a pause in fighting? the end of the battle? – the floating snowflakes add an element of movement to the image, as well as a bit of tension between the static pose and the moving snowflakes.
More tension is introduced through the contrast of the head leaning towards the left while the gaze of Thorin goes to the right. Contrasts like that always add drama to an image, as well as a certain amount of dynamism and movement. They are only little details and they mean nothing in the wider scheme of things – there are no conclusions here from the backward gaze about Thorin’s state of mind. We know that he is pressing forward, single-mindedly pursuing his lust for gold. But the detail makes the image come alive and look more natural than the expected forward gaze.
Detail – alive – natural. Let me tell you at the end of this *ooof* what impresses me the most about the images. And that is less the photography or the character or even the actor contained therein. I am simply amazed by the prosthetics. There are no visible seams where the prosthetics fit around RA’s eyes and nose. And the fake skin looks absolutely real, down to the lines on Thorin’s forehead, and the pores of his skin. The make-up artists on this film did fantastic work. With RA still shining through, he is yet a different person. Thorin. Majestic and yet hands-on. It’s not beneath him to get his hands dirty, in the pit or on battle. And the dirt looks absolutely genuine. I can see Thorin, emerging from the pit, covered in mud and gunk…
Heavy footsteps echoed in the halls of Erebor. The king was on his way. A new seam of precious metal had been discovered in the depth of his mountain, and as was his habit, the king himself had gone down to take the first pick with his axe, beginning a new mining gallery for the exploiting of the precious metal. This should have been an occasion of joy for the recently re-instated king of the dwarves, but much to his own dismay Thorin had realised that the long exile from his kingdom, the subsequent journey to recapturing it, the exhausting battle against his enemies and finally the months it took to re-instate himself on the throne had taken their toll. His mining technique was not what it had been. He grimaced just thinking about it. Like a rookie dwarf he had swung his pick-axe too far back – and grazed his own regal brow when he brought it down on the shimmering stone of gold with his inaugural hit. He gingerly touched his temple. He had drawn blood. Dwalin had jumped to his side and started to make a big fuss over the little cut, drawing even more attention to the embarrassing lapse. Thorin had swatted him away like an irritating fly – and thundered off in a huff after the traditional “Salab Nurjundul”* chant. Once soured, his mood was seldom lightened very quickly. With knitted brows and clenched fists Thorin stomped his way back towards the Royal quarters. Nothing could save this day today, that much was clear. And it was only half past 10 in the morning.
Turning the corner to the Mekeb-fahan**, he was aware of a faint whistling that switched to a gentle hum as he made his way closer to the side-chamber to the library where his administrative council had their quarters. All dwarves were currently attending the festivities for the newly opened seam, as was the custom on a feast day such as this, “so who is faffing around up here”, Thorin grumbled into his blood-stained beard. With a determined step he approached the heavy door into the council chamber. A fair but human female was sitting in the chamber, surrounded by parchments and quills, humming unself-consciously to herself. “What keeps you here, woman?” Thorin boomed from the doorway, slightly harsher in tone than he had intended.
This was, he knew very well, the woman employed for the translation of the Royal documents. She had not been invited to the celebrations; foreigners were excluded from the dwarven festivities. He had noticed her before on the few occasions that he had had reason to visit the administration quarters. She had a most pleasing way of blushing whenever Thorin stuck his nose around the door of the council chamber. But she also had a rather annoying habit of humming romantic ditties with the most ridiculous lyrics that some of his council members had complained about. Dwarves simply did not entertain sentimental drivel such as “I can’t smile without you, I can’t laugh and I can’t sing, I’m finding it hard to do anything…”And some of the older council dwarves had hinted to Thorin that the woman was clearly in love – and therefore unfit for work. He had waved off the demand, but idly wondered who had the woman in thrall…
Now the woman jumped to her feet, her blush darker than he had ever noticed before. “I… I… was sorting… and copying some documents, my King…”, she stammered, straightening her dress to make herself presentable in the presence of the king. Thorin nodded impatiently as he stepped closer. “I wonder what is so urgent that you would be working on a feast day, woman?” “I… nothing… I… was just…” Mahal, had the woman a speech impediment? If this was an example of her articulateness or rather lack thereof, he’d worry about her translation work.
Before Thorin could reach the table, the woman suddenly turned back to the table where she had been sitting, swiping across the documents in an obvious attempt to conceal her true business. With a swift step Thorin was by her side. “What are you hiding from me? Are you a spy, taking notes off our council papers? Let me see what you have just failed to hide from me”, he demanded in a voice that allowed no resistance. The woman’s face and shoulders fell. King Thorin was well-known for his alert eyes and his sensitive nose that seemed to sniff out anything that concerned his affairs. No wonder, regally as it sat in his face. She slowly pulled a document from underneath the pile of papers. “I am no spy. I was just entertaining myself, my Lord, with some rhymes. But I beg you, do not waste your time with them. They are rather bad…”, she made a desperate attempt at distracting him. But Thorin snatched the parchment from her trembling fingers. “Let me be the judge of that”, he grumbled. The woman cringed as Thorin’s eyes flew back and forth over the lines of neatly written words.
At last he had finished. He lowered his hand with the parchment and focussed on the woman who was expecting the wrath of the king. But her fearful gaze met with a mirthful smile. “An ode to my nose? How flattering. But just to let you know – I have a fine ear for poetry, too. 200 words. Jambic pentameter. An ode to his ears. Tomorrow. In my private study.” He left the woman standing, her mouth agape, and stepped sprightly out of the chamber. “An ornament in his face…”, he whispered to himself with a smile. The day was suddenly not as dark as it had seemed before…
*busy newly opened
** North Library
This ficlet was inspired by Hedgehogess who sent me the poem way before I had a picture to attach the poem to. The English translation is mine, all artistic credit to Hedgehogess, though.